3 mins read
It’s a truism in many walks of life that, if something is easy, everyone else either is doing it or soon will be. When it comes to warehouse management systems, in particular e-commerce, it’s only the things that are hard that are really worthwhile doing. By spotting an opportunity, and using the most advanced techniques and the brightest brains to bring it to reality, enterprising companies can really keep ahead of the rest. Playing it safe, in that respect, is a dangerous game.
It’s flexibility and adaptability that are key to being able to make the most of these opportunities when they arise. To remain on top in a rapidly changing market there just isn’t time to be going back to the drawing board every time someone has a good idea. It is essential that a modern WMS system has flexibility built in.
A system that cannot adapt to changing circumstances risks being obsolete almost before it’s commissioned, leaving its user with nowhere to go when the market takes a leap. Similarly, software suppliers need to be sufficiently flexible in their outlook and skilled in their art to provide what their customers need today, tomorrow and well into the future without the need for radical change.
This flexibility could be in response to a fundamental change in trading or just to meet dramatically fluctuating seasonal demand. One of MACS’s customers, for example, supplied cosmetics to distribution centres or direct to retail outlets. Average orders were around 50 a day. The company then moved into much smaller drop-ship deliveries direct to consumers’ homes. Demand then leapt to around 1,000 orders a day in the quiet times to nearer 20,000 a day as Christmas approached. That required a high degree of flexibility from the WMS.
This change in the company’s method of working also required the WMS to have the ability to accept orders from multiple retailers, all using different systems to send the data, without re-keying. The company said that once its customers understood the possibilities, they came up with new ideas themselves.
The MSE Group
The MSE Group provides an e-fulfilment service for the home entertainment industry. The company is delivering both to retail establishments, often through Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) in which it manages the stock for each outlet individually, and direct to customers’ homes. During the high season the company can process well in excess of 30,000 orders a day including deliveries for traders on eBay.
Darren Yull, Head of IT for MSE Group, said that his MACSwms software controls every part of the process. “Over the years we have worked with MACS the process has been continually evolving because our business is moving all the time,” he explained. “Each customer works in a different way so we work with MACS to make sure the system is sufficiently flexible to meet everyone’s needs. It is the flexibility and the ability to change with us that is key.”
Darren explained that it was an established process that his company went through whenever there was a new opportunity that could be addressed with the WMS. “We talk to MACS about the opportunity, they work out a plan of action and then we decide upon the best solution. Many people in my position would not have that from a software vendor. Our business just wouldn’t work if we were stuck with a standard WMS.”
Core Management Logistics
CML is a third-party logistics management company based in Lutterworth. The company works with forwarders, shipping lines, parcel carriers and hauliers to provide a comprehensive e-fulfilment service to its household name clients.
The company installed MACSwms in 1999 to handle all its warehouse management needs. Graham Copley, the company’s Managing Director, confirmed that it is the flexibility of approach that makes the difference for him. “Our old system was very rigid but MACS is much better,” he said. ”It links to customers more easily, accepts orders electronically and links with back office systems such as Sage, SAP and manufacturing control equipment.”
Once again, for CML it is MACS’s ability to develop interfaces with customers that is core to the relationship. “Having that expertise and quickness of response has often helped us to secure new contracts and start working them with the minimum of delay.” And despite the recession the company has used this ability to good effect, growing from a turnover of £4m in 2000 to around £16m today.
Visibility is also very important for many customers. They want to be able to check stock levels and confirm deliveries even though the logistics is being managed by a third party. “We can give our customers the visibility they need,” said Graham. “If a delivery comes in, it is uploaded onto our system and then ported straight over to our customer via their electronic link, straight into their system. The minute our system is updated, so is theirs. MACSwms has supported us incredibly well. It has proven that it can do whatever we have asked it to do.”
From our point of view, as a provider of WMS software, constant change is a challenge. Of course I would rather sell a standard product and make product development a purely generic occupation. But it just doesn’t work that way. Our customers thrive on change so that they can keep one step ahead themselves. It is that very individuality that gives them their edge. In that respect it is only the hard things that are worth doing at all and the virtually impossible that can make the difference between playing catch-up and leading the market. Flexibility in our business is not an option, it’s a fundamental.
Earlier this year, following a devastating earthquake and subsequent cholera outbreak, MACS sent in reinforcements to get the SCMS (a delivery partner for USAID) warehouse, which despatches vital antiviral drugs, back to full operational capacity.
We all celebrated MACS Software’s 21st birthday recently with a staff trip to the Sutton Elms Go-Karting circuit in Leicestershire in order to let off a little steam. Some of the team showed a natural aptitude for thrashing around a race track – a far cry from our day jobs designing software for some of the world’s leading corporations.